Usability testing is an essential phase in web design and development, and this task is usually to another party and not the designer. This is not because the web designer does not know how to carry out these tests; it is simply because he or she is too experienced in the design field to notice more user-related problems.
One way to test a website is to create imaginary “cases of use” which will correspond to different categories of users. The person testing can play the role of the user and find out how much time and how easy it is to find what she or he is looking for.
You can only really carry out more formal testing on commercial websites, although most websites will benefit from some kind of testing, regardless their goal. Make sure you always have someone test your website for you before you publish it on the web. It is a bit like editing your own written work; you will never see the spelling and grammar mistakes as effectively as an outside reader will.
Testing is essential, despite the fact that your website may boast some of the best design on the Internet; there are always some problems that will arise. These could be a wrong decision on the design, which will create frustration and confusion for certain users.
You as a web designer will never pick out the mistakes you make, this is because you are too intimately acquainted with the website and understand its mechanics. Due to your position it will be difficult to see issues from a user’s point of view. So if you can avoid testing your own work.
Try and find people who are not involved with your project and have them test them as mock users. This may be hard if you are working as a freelance, however you could ask friends to try it out or family members.
It may be useful to structure the tests you run, rather than have users merely finding problems when navigating your website. You can do this by creating use cases, which are cases in which you will be providing testers with a specific task they should try and complete on the website.
You can also try role playing, where the tester takes on a role and pretends to be someone looking for a specific type of information. You will achieve the best possible results by choosing a tester that knows nothing about the topic of your website, for these are the users that will have the greatest problems when browsing through your website.
When you are testing your website you can learn from the observing the tester, while he or she is trying to find information on your website. You could observe if they choose the right navigation option on the first attempt, how long they spend deciding on the navigation options, and how many views they need to go through before reaching the one that interests them.
Other issues you can observe if the information they are looking for is on your website or somewhere else and how long it takes for them to find it.